The developers spent a little too much time on the graphics, and not enough time developing the mechanics. But when Crytek unleashed Crysis on the world they proved that this is not necessarily always true. Underneath the wonderful surface there was a deep sandbox experience that allowed us the freedom to tackle any obstacle in a number of different ways.
Even if Crysis 2 was a great game, a lot of what made Crysis special was done away with in the sequel, where we played through linear levels and the game originally launched without support for the latest DirectX features (patched in later). This was something Crytek were very up front with when we visted their Frankfurt headquarters to take a look at Crysis 3. The objective is to once again push the envelope for both graphics and gameplay with the biggest project the developer has undertaken to date.
Jan Lechner, development designer on Crysis 3, explains that the team had grown tired of the jungle when they started on Crysis 2 and that was the reason they went for something they called "urban jungle". But in spite of all the iconic settings in New York, they still felt limited and the new term they use to describe the surroundings is "urban rainforest". Lechner goes on to say that there is no place as iconic as the Big Apple, but that when the city has been torn down you can offer players brand new environments even if the geographical location is the same. It's still New York... but not the New York we all know.
After the Ceph were hit hard in Crysis 2 they built a "Liberty Dome" around all of Manhattan to keep the aliens inside, while trying to steal their technology. The only problem is that the alien presence has affected plant life inside the dome, and two years has resulted in 200 years of overgrowth on the inside. Forget about the New York you know, what you're faced with in Crysis 3 is a swamp land with patches of rain forest and the occasional ruin here and there.
Crytek promises that these extreme and alien conditions will offer several kinds of environments in what they call the ultimate sandbox. Exactly what we're in for is still a secret, but arid desert areas, bodies of water, forests, and deep canyons are mentioned. Lechner says something cryptic about the seven wonders that these environments make up, without going into any detail as to what makes them wonders.
During the demonstration of Crysis 3 we get to witness the new toy Prophet has at his disposal - a decidedly high tech bow. In the previous game you were the prey, and this time around the idea is that you are the hunter. Prophet quietly ascends what probably used to be an escalator in the New York subway system, turns on his invisibility, and pulls back the arrow. An enormous alien is quietly minding his own business in the distance and he is quickly and quietly disposed off with a lethal arrow. Prophet walks up to the carcass, and looks out over what once was the most iconic place in human civilisation, but where there once was streets there is dense jungle, and Chinatown has turned into an area of lush swamp lands.
From time to time you can spot remnants of what used to be skyscrapers, small coffeeshops transformed beyond recognition, and once in a while what remains of a vehicle rises above the tall grass. If you're lucky you can see the occasional lamp post with green signs hanging from them, giving you an idea of what part of Manhattan you're currently in.
The visuals are truly mindnumbingly good, and it takes all my strength to prevent drool from hitting floor as I gape at the screen. Vegetation has never been portrayed better, and the game offers a peculiar mix of open spaces, nature on steroids, and metropolis. A Ceph craft speeds past and kicks up dust and debree as if to illustrate the level of destruction the engine is capable. Next Prophet goes into First Blood mode as he sneaks up on a couple of alien scum and executes them. The bow definitely adds something to the concept, and allows players to take a stealthier approach as compared to the often chaotic situation of the previous games. Crytek reveal that there will be several types of arrows, even if we are only allowed to see explosive and regular variations at this point. But one new weapon is hardly enough, is it?
No, that just won't do. This time around you will be able to pick up and use alien guns as well. Examples of this are a plasma rifle, that reminds us of Halo's corresponding gun, and a big ass Ceph grenade launcher. The most impressive gun we saw, however, was the standard human gun, Typhoon. With a devastating fire rate of 500 rounds per second it turns anyone or anything into a pile of meat in no time. And that's a good thing, as Crytek promises that there will be a lot more enemy variation than has previously been the case.
Crytek showed off Crysis 3 on a top end PC, and played it with a 360 controller. It doesn't take a genius to realise that it cannot possibly look this good on consoles, and Crytek's Jan Lechner says that they will try and make use of the strengths of each console in order to make each version look as good as possible. He explains that there is plenty of unharvested potential to make more advanced games than Crysis 2, and he thinks that once the game launches next year it will be the standard against which all other console games will be measured.
We fully trust the skills of Crytek, and Crysis 3 looks like it's going to offer a delicious mix of some of the best elements from the previous games, along with plenty of new ideas and the most breathtaking environments we've ever witnessed in a shooter. There is every reason to get hyped up early for what promises to be one of the best experiences of 2013.